The dynamics of Australia's immigration policy.

Author:Brown, Rick

We are constantly reminded that the world, or at least much of it, changed on the 11th September, 2001. One of the consequences of the dramatic New York bombings is that they have overshadowed the equally significant consequences of events which culminated a little over a decade earlier with the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.

Up until then both international affairs and, in most Western countries, domestic politics evolved within the framework of the Cold War: communists versus anticommunists; free enterprise versus central planning and state ownership. The collapse of ideology created a vacuum and vacuums are made to be filled. In this case the vacuum has been filled by identity.

September 11 highlighted this development and subsequent events have led to a view that a serious longer-term challenge facing liberal democracies today concerns the integration of immigrant minorities as citizens of pluralistic democracies. (1)

The emergence of identity as a defining issue has occurred at a time when travel has become easier and cheaper for migrants and asylum seekers alike. At the same time Western countries are experiencing labour shortages, one contributor to which is 30 years or more of lower than replacement-level birth rates. Another, in the case of Australia at least, is the emphasis placed since the 1970s on university education and the consequent decline in esteem and value of technical education.

The consequences of these of these three developments have landed at the front door of Immigration. The result is demands that are contradictory and policies which were not devised to respond to today's challenges.

For example, the demand from employers and tourist agents alike is that visa applications be processed quickly. Tourist agents are concerned that if tourists have to spend too long in queues at our airports, or have to wait too long to have their visa applications processed, they will choose other destinations. Employers worry that either they will lose money if they cannot fill vacancies quickly or, with a global shortage of skilled labour and a number of countries competing for workers, applicants will go elsewhere if they think that getting to Australia is too hard.

On the other hand, and especially in the post-September 11 era, in which there is increasing concern about the undermining of indentity through the erosion of culture and the increasing diversity of religion and beliefs, people expect governments to ensure that the...

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